Unless the Copper & Blue is your one and only source for Oilers news you already know that Tyler Dellow, the man behind one of my favourite sites, mc79hockey.com, has been hired by the Oilers for a role in Hockey Operations. The news first came from Bob McKenzie, was eventually (reluctantly?) confirmed by the Oilers, and then finally we heard from the man himself.
A lot of people have said a lot of very nice things to and about me today. Thank you very much for that.— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 5, 2014
Thank you also to everyone who read what I wrote for the last 8.5 years. Particularly, thank you to everyone who commented and made me think— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 5, 2014
Other than that, I’ll just say that I’m very excited to be a part of what’s happening in Edmonton.— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 5, 2014
As someone who has spent a lot time in the past few years learning about hockey analytics, the supposedly "advanced stats", this was a move that had me grinning from ear to ear. Dellow's work - and that of many others at the front of the analytics movement - has challenged me to think about the game of hockey in a completely different way, and I am without a doubt going to miss that because it's helped to advance my understanding of the game that I love. But even though I will miss his posts, to see his work get recognized in this way, and by the team I root for no less, is simply fantastic. Dellow might not be everyone's cup of tea on Twitter, but the only thing really surprising about his being hired by an NHL team is that took so long to happen. He's a smart guy and I wish him nothing but the best.
With that out of the way the obvious question becomes, what will Dellow do? The Oilers didn't issue a press release, just the 12 word tweet above, so no help there. Dallas Eakins shed some light on the hiring and what his role might be when talking with Reid Wilkins on Inside Sports last night. Eakins doesn't come out and say it in the interview but I got the feeling that Dellow would be mostly involved on the tactics side of the game, basically working with Eakins to identify problems and opportunities.
This would be consistent with the work Dellow did earlier this summer looking at what happened following faceoff wins and losses. Combine that level of detailed analysis with an NHL team's ability to break down video and you've got a very powerful tool at your disposal. Of course Dellow could be much more involved than that, possibly providing analysis on signings and/or trades, we simply don't know, but looking at his recent work, plus the fact that he was in touch with Eakins during the season and it was Eakins who spoke about his addition to the club, and I come away thinking his involvement will be very close to ice level.
And realistically even if you don't like a lot of what Dellow says this is something that you should find encouraging because it's a sign of a coach who is trying to improve. I don't think many people in Edmonton would argue that Eakins rookie season was a success, I certainly wouldn't, so seeing him make moves to try and improve his performance is something I can only think of as a positive. Last season he thought staff continuity would provide some benefit, which was part of why Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith kept their jobs; that didn't work and now they've been replaced. And if Dellow can identify some areas where the coaching strategy can be tweaked slightly, that should be a positive as well. I certainly can't hurt.
Even Eakins' decision to attend the training camps of the Dallas Cowboys and University of Missouri Tigers points to a coach trying to improve. Faced with the challenge of a larger coaching staff than he's used to he turned to a sport with more experience in handling large coaching staffs, football. This is how he explained his decision to attend the Tigers' camp:
I'm here to learn how top-level coaching staffs work together to get the best out of their athletes. Hockey staffs are really starting to grow exponentially now, it used to be you had a head coach and an assistant or two and we would handle everything, but now, fortunately, we're adding positional coaches, and strength staffs, more trainers, you name it, and my staff is now really big. I want to learn from proven coaches how they manage this size of a staff, and how the head coach delegates authority and how they communicate within the organization what the expectations are and how they work together toward their goals.
Gary provides a great structure, there's a lot here that I feel we can use to benefit our organization and how we do things. It's been really interesting to learn how a staff of this size can operate so efficiently.
I look at things like this and I see a coach who not only understands what he's good at but also what he's not good at, and a man who's willing to find help where ever he can in order to improve. To me that points to a person who is pretty damn smart. And while none of that guarantees that he'll be able to help turn the Oilers into a winner, as Dellow pointed out more than a couple of times on Twitter and again on his site, there are probably worse things we could do than bet on a smart guy to figure things out.